The earth is witnessing drastic changes that have been triggered by human endeavours in the spheres of economy and society. Climate change, ecosystem destruction, global warming are real and serious challenges that require immediate global attention.
World leaders and international forums have had many discussions and passed environmental laws; however, imbibing environmental consciousness is a must for them to have a societal impact.
The world is grappling with these environmental concerns, and the idea of eco-friendly and sustainability has come to the forefront. It has been recognised as crucial that countries and communities reduce their negative impacts on the environment.
Environmental Performance Index, or EPI
The Environmental Performance Index is one such measure for tracking a nation’s progress to the path of sustainability. It also states the areas of improvement and further steps that a specific country should take to improve its ranking and become more green, eco-friendly, and sustainable.
The Environmental Performance Index gives ranks to countries depending on their efforts to protect the earth’s ecosystem. It also estimates the time taken by different nations to meet their environmental policy aims.
The 2018 Environmental Performance Index is entirely accurate and has ranked 180 countries based on their environmental performances by analysing the latest information and including information from the last decade. Apart from the environmental score, countries are also evaluated for their environmental health and ecosystem vitality.
The environmental health score is given by measuring the quality of the nation’s natural resources, mainly air and water quality. The ecosystem vitality score measures the well-being of the nation’s ecosystems and the fauna and flora living in these ecosystems.
The factors or indicators taken into account to generate these rankings include- air quality, air pollution, drinking water quality, wastewater treatment, species protection, marine protected areas and carbon emissions.
The combined scores achieved by countries are then converted into rankings that nations can use to engage in healthy competition. This index also states the micro areas that a country can improve to become more sustainable. It also encourages the stakeholders and the local population to become more eco-friendly to improve their nation’s global rank.
The most eco-friendly countries
In 2018, according to EPI, Switzerland was ranked as the most eco-friendly country in the world. It was followed by France, Denmark, Malta, Sweden and the UK.
In this article, let us look at the most sustainable country in the world, which is Switzerland and the reasons for the same.
Switzerland- no 1 eco-friendly nation
Switzerland ranked no 1 in 2018 due to its efforts to achieve sustainability and environmental protection. Its final EPI score was 87.42, its environmental score was 93.57, and the ecosystem vitality score was 83.32.
Switzerland is a developed and smooth functioning economy. Its citizens and government are active and responsible towards the environment. The country has a high standard of living and emphasises good education for its citizens. All these factors also contribute to its top global position in environmental affairs.
Most of the country is covered by beautiful lakes, forests, and lush mountains that the government gives protection. Despite being a globally famous tourist destination, these natural elements are preserved in their pristine form due to Swiss efforts which are truly commendable.
Maintaining water quality
Switzerland has taken many steps to preserve the water quality and also implemented efficient wastewater treatment initiatives. In 1967, wastewater treatment got a significant position and importance in the Swiss laws, and by 2005, about 97% of the population was directly linked to a sewage treatment plant. At present, there are 900 wastewater treatment plants in Switzerland.
The Federal Council has constructed another efficient wastewater treatment unit to tackle micropollutants and residue from medicines and cosmetics. It also promotes sustainable plant products and has implemented many renaturation programs to preserve the Swiss rivers and lakes. The nation also leads in waste management and has a global recycling ratio of 53%.
Preserving natural resources
A nation requires housing its people and industries to produce goods and all this requires tapping the available natural resources. However, this process impacts the environment. To preserve natural resources, the Swiss government provides incentives for promoting sustainable and eco-friendly products. It also creates awareness about the need for environmental protection.
The national policy is geared towards saving resources, being climate-friendly and promoting sustainable technologies and innovations. The economy is circular, and a closed cycle is important for products such as aluminium, PET, Glass and concrete to minimise their wastage. Hence, more Swiss companies are coming forward to repair already-existing products instead of mass-producing them to increase sales. Most manufacturers depend on renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.
Clean and sustainable manufacturing has many advantages. The first is the security of supply, and it also decreases the negative environmental and health impact. The economy becomes strong as most things are recycled, and there is minimal resource wastage. These factors have made Switzerland a global leader in the Cleantech industry, and its public sector is also fast developing.
Judicious land use and planned urban growth
Every country expands with time; however, this expansion should be planned and well-executed. Switzerland recognised the need for planned expansion and amended its Spatial Planning Act in 2013. The Act was a turning point in boosting Swiss environmental and economic growth. It promoted inward urban development and re-zoning to prevent clustering of urban populations that could put pressure on the existing natural ecosystems.
This was an intelligent move to slow down the growth of urban settlements and reduce their impact on newer, untouched regions. In addition to this, in 2020, the Federal Council brought out the Swiss Soil Strategy to achieve zero net soil loss by 2050.
Successfully tackling climate change
Climate change is a universal issue faced by all nations alike. However, Switzerland has taken it seriously. The nation has taken various steps to keep the rise in average global temperatures below 1.5°C by 2050.
The government has focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are a cause of the greenhouse effect. Efforts have been taken to expand the forest areas too.
The Swiss Federal Council brought out its national climate change adaptation strategy in 2014 and the second action plan in 2020.
This made fossil fuels subject to a CO2 levy, which was increased to CHF 96 per tonne of CO2 in 2018. This affects the Swiss industrial sector the most. One-third of the revenue from these carbon dioxide levies goes into a programme that funds energy-conserving innovations and renewable energy use. The remaining of it is given to the public as a reward for low fossil fuel use.
Protecting the nation’s Biodiversity
The biodiversity of a region comprises all the flora, fauna and the natural ecosystem and its interaction with human communities. It is important for humankind and economic activities. Biodiversity is the provider of food, medicines and other raw materials required for human sustenance. Biodiversity maintains biological balance in nature so that all activities are in sync with each other. Maintaining biodiversity is most important.
Switzerland has a beautiful landscape, and an enormous range of biodiversity that supports 45,000 recorded and surveyed species. However, until 2016, its biodiversity was under threat of depletion. So, in 2017 the Federal Council adopted an action plan for the Swiss Biodiversity Strategy and increased its expenditure on environmental conservation. This policy has prompted land use to promote and preserve biodiversity. The aim is to maintain a smooth functioning system and an ecological network of protected niches for Swiss exotic plant and animal species.
Maintaining Air Quality
Air pollution is a grappling issue. Most air pollution is caused by automobiles and is rampant in the developing world due to the increasing population. Smoke, dirt and dust has created not only environmental but also aggravated human health problems. In Switzerland, measures have been deployed to tackle the air pollution that has decreased particulate matter concentration by 50% in the last two decades.
Swiss air quality is much better than other western countries, and the credit for this goes to its development of eco-friendly technologies and practices. Nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and ammonia emissions are controlled by promoting and using innovative eco-friendly technologies for vehicles, agricultural and industrial units, and heating systems.
Efficient Soil Management
Swiss soil has seen enormous degradation due to construction, erosion and also pollution in the last decades. However, to make sure that future generations can enjoy the benefit of Swiss soil, the Federal Council adopted the Swiss Soil Strategy in 2020. This strategy aims to reduce and stop soil degradation by 2050.
The government also brought out sectoral plans to promote crop rotation to keep land fertile over longer durations. A Soil Competence Centre has also been established to collect soil information to make a nationwide soil mapping concept. The information gathered would help to measure the soil conditions and take specific steps for sustainable soil management.
Switzerland has taken individual steps in every possible direction that has made it the most eco-friendly and livable nation globally. This has been possible due to the unrelenting combined efforts of the public and the stakeholders. All other nations should look at the Swiss environmental preservation strategy and improve their nation’s EPI. After all, environmental conservation affects all nations equally, and so everyone must take responsibility for it.